The Asian Art Museum kicks off its “Summer of Contemporary” series with the much-anticipated 28 Chinese, an exhibition illustrative of over a decade of research, exploration, and collecting in Chinese contemporary arts by major American art collectors Don and Mera Rubell. Comprised of work by 28 contemporary Chinese artists whose practices span media and over 35 years, this exhibit includes art by both internationally acclaimed artists including Ai Weiwei, Zhang Huan and Huang Yong Ping who have made an integral impact on the art world at large and expanded definitions and the significance of Chinese contemporary art; and emerging artists who are already making significant contributions to the country’s cultural landscape like Liu Wei, He Xiangyu and Xu Zhen. “28 Chinese presents a range of universal ideas as broad and complex as China itself,” says Jay Xu, Asian Art Museum director. “The artworks reflect the perspectives of 28 individuals, which represent just the tip of the iceberg of contemporary art from China.”
This “Summer of Contemporary” season will be composed of two exhibitions during the next three months at the Asian Art Museum that will make a concerted focus upon exhibiting modern and contemporary art in the Museum program. After 28 Chinese, First Look: Collecting Contemporary at the Asian will be another a large-scale exhibition of more than 40 artworks that will feature the museum’s burgeoning modern and contemporary art collection. Like 28 Chinese and previous modern and contemporary art exhibitions at the Asian Art Museum, First Look will activate the rest of the museum’s collection in compelling ways by juxtaposing traditional themes, mediums, and cultural history with present-day perspectives and issues. And while the Museum’s “Summer of Contemporary” may technically end with First Look, modern themes and concerns will continue into Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists, opening October 30. The Asian Art Museum presentation of this travelling exhibition, the only on the West Coast, will examine how Japan’s trade opening in the 1850s created mass intrigue among Western audiences and collectors, and artists and designers for Japanese art and culture, while also exploring the Eastern inspirations found in many of the major artistic movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These exhibitions will certainly add further testimony alongside past programming to the Museum’s success in its efforts to exhibit Asian modern and contemporary art in its galleries, as well as its deep and broad approaches and emcompassment.
For specifically 28 Chinese, this exhibition explores perhaps most importantly the current interests in collecting and placing on view Chinese and more broadly Asian art for audiences. 28 Chinese represents the perspective of Chinese art and notable artists in the country from art collectors Don and Mera Rubell, possessors of one of the largest private contemporary art collections in North America and founders of the Rubell Family Collection and Contemporary Arts Foundation in Miami, Florida. Throughout six trips between 2001 and 2012 the Rubells visited one hundred artists’ studios around China: from Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Xi’an, yielding the acquisition of artworks from these 28 artists. Establishing intimate connections with the artists whose work they collect, and visiting them among the culture and conditions in which they live has always been important to the Rubells: “The nuances of China wouldn’t have become apparent through visits to contemporary Chinese exhibitions in Chelsea galleries,” said the Rubells’ son Jason Rubell. “It was vital to this project that we were able to touch, smell, hear, feel and taste something about China itself.” the Asian Art Museum’s placement of the artworks in the isolated special exhibition galleries on the ground floor and among Chinese antiquities in the permanent collection upstairs provides the historical and cultural context the Rubells would most likely appreciate. In one example, the placement of History Observed- Joseph Beuys & Mao Zedong by Li Zhanyang, completes the interaction perfectly as Joseph Beuys attempts to explain to Zedong the art objects that surround them in the gallery space (while also recalling Beuys’ own exhibition, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare.) While local museum visitors might compare this exhibition to another seven years ago at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Half-Life of a Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Logan Collection, it could be said that this particular approach, focusing upon contextualizing the art objects by proximity of other Chinese cultural objects, that makes 28 Chinese’s contribution towards elucidating an understanding of contemporary Chinese art and its placement in a cultural history much more successful as an exhibition than it might mirror or recall.
28 Chinese will be at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin Street through August 16, 2015